The victorious Allies foolishly did not continue to enforce the limitations on Germany’s weapons imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. These clear, tough limitations on Germany’s weapons were replaced by porous, weak limitations that were fatally flawed. And thus, Hitler was able to create the fearsome weapons that enabled him to launch—and almost win—a Second World War, and to murder millions of Jews in the Holocaust. What went wrong? Wishful thinking! Wishful thinking that Hitler could be wooed by giving in to his complaints about the clear, tough limitations on Germany’s weapons.
When the Great War ended (in 1918), virtually the whole world welcomed peace.
Nevertheless, a mere twenty years later (in 1939) another world war began. We called it World War II. And so, the Great War became known as World War I.
What insights and wisdom can we learn from the 1920s and 1930s to save us from fighting World War III? And to save the Jews from another Holocaust?
Innumerable books have been written with innumerable insights.
One generally agreed upon insight is that the victorious Allies foolishly did not continue to enforce the limitations on Germany’s weapons imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.
These clear, tough limitations on Germany’s weapons were replaced by porous, weak limitations that were fatally flawed. And thus, Hitler was able to create the fearsome weapons that enabled him to launch—and almost win—a Second World War, and to murder millions of Jews in the Holocaust.
What went wrong?
Wishful thinking that Hitler could be wooed by giving in to his complaints about the clear, tough limitations on Germany’s weapons.
What were these limitations?
—No air force.
—A tiny navy without battleships.
—A tiny army.
These limitations illustrate a principle that I often use when mentoring people.
The easiest thing to prove is that something exceeds zero. For proof, I only need one example.
To illustrate this principle, I typically use the example of claiming zero personal mileage on a company car.
If you claim that zero miles were driven that year for personal use (that required reimbursement to the company for the mileage), I can prove a violation by proving that you made even one trip to a store for milk.
But if you acknowledge 1,000 miles of personal use of the company car (and reimburse the company at the appropriate rate per mile), I’ll be hard-pressed to prove you drove more than 1,000 miles that year for personal use. If I bring up an example of personal use, you’ll simply claim that it was part of the 1,000 miles.
Similar issues arise when looking for evidence of violations of a limitation on the development, building, testing, or deployment of a weapon.
If you’re supposed to have zero fighter planes, zero bombers, and zero military pilots, I only need to find one fighter plane, one bomber, or one military pilot, to prove you’ve violated the limitation.
A related benefit to limiting a type of weapon to zero is that, if a nation cheats, it cannot escape detection of its violation long enough to obtain a decisive military advantage before its violation can be discovered and countered by military and diplomatic actions, including economic sanctions.
As you’d expect, there were a number of ways for Germany to lay the foundation of its air force secretly. “Civilian” flying clubs. Secret staff planning. But the established air forces of Britain and France could not be challenged—much less defeated—by such creeping violations.
A similar principle applies to limitations on nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. It’s best to eliminate entire categories of weapons—such as to eliminate nuclear missiles with a range of less than 1,000 miles or to eliminate nuclear warheads with greater than 10 times the explosive power of the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
It’s much easier to prove that the offending nation has developed, built, tested, or deployed even one such missile or warhead that exceeds the limitation, rather than to try to count how many such missiles or warheads exist or have been deployed after the nation has been permitted to develop, test, build and deploy such missiles and weapons—and has had opportunities to hide some of them.
Admittedly, it’s almost certain that each nation (including the United States) will engage in “creeping violations”. But no nation can develop, build, test, and deploy enough of the banned weapons quickly enough to be decisive militarily without there being sufficient time for the opposing nations to respond militarily and diplomatically, including with economic sanctions. (see my blog “Curtailing Force: Replacing Nails with Glue”).
This is part of the broader issue of “transparency” in arms control agreements. The easier it is to verify that other nations are in compliance with the limitations, the better. Both to ensure that limitations are being obeyed, and to build trust among the participants.
Ronald Reagan is famous for his maxim: “Trust, but verify!”.
As an example of how best to set up “transparent” weapons limitations, let’s consider varying ways to limit long guns with magazines capable of holding more than five bullets.
Consider a total ban on anyone (except law enforcement or military personnel) owning or using a long gun whose magazine is capable of having more than five bullets.
If anyone (except law enforcement or military personnel) has such a long gun, it is obvious. The long gun can be confiscated, and the owner and vendor of the long gun can be prosecuted.
If the limitation applies solely to long guns owned by someone under 21, it’s still a fairly transparent rule. Estimate the age of the person who owns or uses such a gun. Verify their birthdate. Watch out for fake IDs!
In contrast, if the limitation is whether the owner or user of the long gun: (1) passed a background check; or (2) is banned from having a long gun because of a “red flag” restriction (such as a history of violence or mental illness), it is not obvious to friends, family or police that the person is not allowed to own or use a long gun.
For an excellent account of mistakes in arms control agreements in the 1920s and 1930s, I urge you to read Winston Churchill’s account of the follies of the victorious Allies, as set forth in The Gathering Storm (the first volume of his World War II memoirs).
I’ll note a few of those follies here.
First, the limitations became more complex and easier to evade.
For example, once Germany was allowed to build warships of certain sizes and capabilities, Germany simply cheated. Meanwhile, Britain actually followed the rules and built ships that were less powerful than Germany was building.
If you recall the hit song “Sink the Bismarck” by Johnny Horton, the reason the British navy had so much trouble sinking the Bismarck was that the Germans had cheated when building this nearly invincible battleship!
Second, as a practical matter, the agreements limited Britain, but didn’t limit Germany.
As a victor in World War I, Britain retained its large fleet. Therefore, its shipyards were limited from building as many new, modern warships as Britain was capable of building, and needed.
Germany lost World War I. It did not retain any powerful warships. Therefore, its shipyards were permitted to build as many new, modern warships as Germany was capable of building—yet Germany still didn’t reach the agreed limitations.
Third, weapons were considered good or bad depending on whether they were offensive or defensive. But, in practice, this is not a useful distinction.
As Churchill complained, some people considered the machine gun to be a defensive weapon and therefore “good”. But they considered the tank to be an offensive weapon and therefore “bad”. (Perhaps I should note that Churchill was key to developing tanks in World War I; so he was instinctively “defensive” about any criticisms of his brainchild!)
In realty, the machine gun enabled Germany to defend against French efforts to liberate the French lands that Germany illegally invaded. But the tank enabled the French to drive the Germans off French soil.
Thus, “offensive” and “defensive” are not useful categories for determining whether a weapon is good or bad.
I think that a better way to determine whether a weapon is good or bad is whether the weapon’s effects can be limited to current combatants.
This way of determining good or bad also aligns with ethical thinking and international law.
For example, as I discuss in my blog “Curtailing Force: Replacing Nails with Glue”, nuclear weapons should be made less powerful, less radioactive, and more accurate.
This principle can be seen as long ago as in the rules for waging war as set forth in the Torah. Israel’s armies were permitted to cut down trees to construct siege works, but they were not to cut down fruit trees which could feed people in the future. (Deuteronomy 20:19-20).
Finally, it makes a huge difference with WHOM you are entering into the limitation.
Admittedly, we can only make peace with those we may fight in a war.
Reagan had to “trust but verify” nuclear arms agreements with the Soviet Union—the same nation he had denounced as an “evil empire”.
Nevertheless, there is a key difference between negotiating with a Gorbachev or negotiating with a Hitler.
Gorbachev was negotiating as hard and skillfully as he could to advance the interests of his citizens.
As a lawyer, I expect—and respect—that each “lawyer”, including me, will negotiate as hard and skillfully as he or she can to advance the interests of their “client”.
With such people, a concession will be interpreted as a sign of goodwill—proof of a shared desire for peace.
In contrast, Hitler (and Nationalists like him) are obviously out to trick and destroy us.
Such twisted, delusional, evil people interpret each concession as a sign of weakness—as a weakness that should be exploited to seize more territory and to develop, build, test, and deploy more weapons.
Therefore, each concession to such twisted, delusional, evil people does not increase the chances for peace.
Instead, each concession to such twisted, delusional, evil people increases the chances for war.
Think about it this way. If I nod my head up and down, I think my actions are saying “Yes” to peace. But a twisted, delusional, evil person thinks that my actions are saying “Yes” to surrender.
Such was the bitter fruit of Wishful Thinking about concessions regarding territory and weapons that the victorious Allies made to Hitler in the 1930s.
Even in such a case, we should still reject violence. (Genesis 4:23-24; 6:11-13) (see my blog ”Ending Violence: Putting Faces with Names”.
But we need to be willing to use force wisely as we seek to embrace peace. (Leviticus 24:19-21; Matthew 5:38-45) (see my blog “Ending Violence: Embracing the Spirit of Peace”)
Unfortunately, the 21st Century is full of Nationalists who are committed to our violent destruction. (see my blog “Nationalism Is Patriotism Gone Astray”).
Among these twisted, delusional, evil people are:
—ISIS Muslim Nationalists;
—Taliban Muslim Nationalists;
—Russian Christian Nationalists; and
—White Christian Nationalists.
Against such twisted, delusional, evil people, we must not engage in Wishful Thinking.
Nor should we ever engage in violence.
Instead, we should use force wisely as we seek to embrace peace.
For my thoughts about the American Civil War, and about World War I and its aftermath (especially in light of post-Cold War diplomacy and the war in Ukraine), please read my blogs: “A War That Spun Out of Control: The American Civil War”, “A War That Spun Out of Control: World War I”, “A Peace Lost by Wishful Thinking: The 1920s and 1930s”, “A Peace Lost by Wishful Thinking: Blaming Germany”, “A Peace Lost by Wishful Thinking: America First”, “A Peace Lost by Wishful Thinking: Tariffs and Trade Barriers”, and “A Peace Lost by Wishful Thinking: Weapons”.
For my thoughts about establishing Peace, please read my blogs “Blessed Are the Peacemakers”, “Ending Violence: Putting Faces with Names”, “Ending Violence: Embracing the Spirit of Peace”, “Curtailing Force: Replacing Nails with Glue”, “Spilling Coffee”, “Chess Lessons: Playing for a Draw”, “Game Lessons: Sustainable Risk”, “Pandemic Wisdom: Multiple Choice Exams & No-Win-Scenarios”, “Deceptive-Drawings-Designed-To-Deceive-and-Divide”, “We Need Inspiring Visions of a Bright Future. Why?”, “Nationalism Is Patriotism Gone Astray”, and “Establishing Peace Without Limit”.
For related thoughts, please read my blogs “Jesus Climbs the Temple Mount”, “Nationalism is Patriotism Gone Astray”, “Keeping the Powers of Money, Religion and Kingdoms Separate”, and “How Do We Build a Civilization That Is Good—That Is Very Good?”.
For more of my thoughts about the need for systems of laws and customs to combat hatred, racism and violence, please read my blogs “Spilling Coffee”, “Individuals and Systems, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable”, and “The Webb Space Telescope: Many Parts, One System”.
For an overview of the road to World War II, please read the chapter “Hakuna Matata” in my book Visions of America (published together with my book Visions of the Church), at pages 113-117; and please read The Gathering Storm, the first volume of Winston Churchill’s World War II memoirs.